Anxiety, Neurosis, and Living a Life of Fear

There’s an epidemic gaining momentum in society.

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Obviously I don’t believe I’m alone or I wouldn’t write about it.  Anxiety and fear are leaving people feeling trapped, living a life alone with their own thoughts.

It all started for me about five years ago with my UC (ulcerative colitis) diagnosis.  What began as a disease of the large intestine and specifically the colon, spread to my head.

No it’s not cancer.  I’m referring to the negative thought process I became fixated on and concerned with 24/7.  Worry followed by more fear and worry.  Here is a small sampling of my thoughts from about five years ago to give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

  • Is this going to kill me?
  • What (if anything) could I eat any more?
  • Would it cause another attack?
  • What if I’m not near a bathroom? (near is a distance 15-20 seconds away at a panic jog rate)
  • What if I can’t eat anything?
  • Would I still be able to travel?
  • What if I got sick away from home?
  • How embarrassing is this going to be?
  • Eat more bananas? Damn it! More bananas?

Why am I telling you this?

Because I believe this is merely a glimpse at my struggle, and although it may not relate to you directly, I believe others need to know it’s okay to be afraid, but accepting of their fears.  What’s not okay is to let fear take over your thoughts, actions, and emotions 24/7 and ruin your life.  For me, this fear lead to panic, anxious thoughts, and uninitiated worry.

A couple years ago on the outside, I may have looked like I had it together, but on the inside I was a complete mess.

The “trifecta” I was living with included more than just the UC diagnosis and fears.  At the exact same time I was kicking a nasty nicotine habit (which needed to happen), while also facing a growing infertility challenge with my wife as we longed to start a family.  Brick by brick, a house of fears and frustration compiled.

It wasn’t until a couple years ago I realized the best medicine for my body wasn’t the two daily horse pills I take. I needed brain training for a reboot.  I’d personally beaten myself down with thoughts and feelings of insecurity and anxiousness.  Everywhere I went there was an undercurrent of fear riding in my sidecar.  If you can relate, you know what I’m talking about. The weeds find a way to grow, and they grow quickly!

What does this fear feel like?

It feels like a racing heartbeat.  Clammy and shivering hands.  Chills.  Feelings of being exhausted and alert at the same time.  It turned situations where I was 100% comfortable a couple years ago into fight or flight adrenaline jolts.  It sucked.

So how did I start to take back control?

Slowly. One step at a time my thinking had to be rebuilt.  Here’s what Ralph Waldo Emerson says,

A man is what he thinks about all day long.

The quote (and I’m not sure who said it), “Everyone has something,” kept running through my head.  “I’m not the only one in the world dealing with this, so stop being such a pansy ass,” I’d say to myself.  It could be so much worse.  I had to make a choice and commit to positivity and living life every day.

Commitment to change happened.

Radical change happens when a line is drawn in the sand and a person must be put to a decision.  In poker you would call this an “all-in” wager.  I didn’t want to wallow in the bullshit any longer.  I decided I’d own it and talk about it openly.  I chose to show others my hand (more card-speak), my insecurities, and not be afraid or embarrassed.  After all, this was me.  All of me, as John Legend puts it.

A crazy thing happens when you speak freely about fear.  It gets released.  When it’s released, it doesn’t carry with it the immense weight as it does in your thoughts.  It disappears like smoke from a fire into the night sky.  Seemingly never to have existed in the first place.

Tony Robbins teaches three things to help you get to this action decision.  You can find the link to his post here (How to Create Breakthrough in Any Area of Your Life)

  1. Change your strategy, change your result.
  2. Change your story, change your life.
  3. Change your state—you change it all!

The kryptonite to my fear, my anxiety, my neurosis wasn’t a pill (although I must admit a steroid pack helps a brother out from time to time if he gets run down and my stomach needs a boost).  No.  The answer lived in my thoughts, beliefs, and actions.  A funny thing happens when this choice is made.  You gain momentum and energy, and you never look back.

Thinking alone won’t ever cure me from my stomach disease or associated fears, but I’m not looking for that any more.  I’m not cured, I’m informed.  I’m committed to not living a life of fear and being a shell of my real self.  If that means saying no to a few more things, or resting when my body needs it, then so be it.

When the next challenge comes along (and it’s guaranteed to happen), I will be more prepared.  I will be more present in understanding what I’m feeling.  In the meantime, I’m going to hop on this black stallion called life and break her to live my way!

ACTION ITEM: I’ve been thinking about this post for some time.  A great deal of emotion came about when thinking about it.  It makes me feel even better writing it.  But, it’s not about me.  I know without a shred of doubt there are people struggling like I did.  If you are afraid, SO IS EVERYONE ELSE!

Make a choice to beat it.  If you’re a friend, make a choice to help them.  Life is far too short to be afraid all the time.

20 Minutes of Silence Changed My Life

Late in 2013 I had a life-altering experience.

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I tried mediation for the first time.  First, I’d like to tell you exactly why I did it.

  • I was stressed out
  • Anxious/nervous frequently
  • I couldn’t shut my mind off at night to sleep
  • I couldn’t get a good night sleep
  • I felt worn down and tired
  • I wasn’t thinking as quickly and clearly as I needed to be
  • I clearly wasn’t being myself

If you’re feeling any of these currently, and want to change your life I believe meditation is the solution.  I’m now going to tell you exactly how I do it, as my process is a bit of a hybrid of what you may read elsewhere.

7 Keen Steps to Meditation

  1. Get Alone – I retreat down to my basement to a room that functions as my office from time to time.  The floor is carpeted and extremely comfy.  I close the door and begin my process.
  2. Shut Off The World – The only thing I take with me is my phone (which may sound counterproductive)  but it is turned to airplane mode so I can receive no calls or texts.
  3. Close Your Eyes – This will be challenging for some.  It was extremely challenging for me in the beginning.  The goal is to keep my eyes closed for the entire 20 minutes of meditation.
  4. Turn On the Noise – I use an app called Relax Melodies.  You can find it on the App Store for iPhone.  I turn on the sounds of: the ocean, a piano, a fire, etc.  It varies a little from time to time.  I’d also like to note I wear headphones at the time to tune out any other sound.  This helps me get a tremendous amount of focus and I set a timer for 20 or 25 minutes.
  5. Breathe – After reading a great deal about mediation this is something I crafted slightly on my own.  I start every setting with my legs crossed in standard meditation position.  I breathe in as much as I possibly can through my nose, until my lungs and stomach feel completely full.  I then slowly release the breath through pursed lips (like you would exhale through a straw) and count.  I try to get the count to 20 or 30 with each breath.
  6. Stretch – This is my unique rendition.  As I breathe I added in a stretching routine.  I did some basic research on the most beneficial stress relieving stretches.  A great deal of my routine involves loosening up my hamstrings, neck and back (where I carry my stress).
  7. Positive Talk/Prayer – I also use my 20 minutes of alone time to be thankful and reinforce my thoughts with positive talk.  This too is a unique wrinkle I’ve added to my routine.  It may or may not be for you.  I believe the more my mind is reinforced, the better performance I can expect from my own abilities.

So, how would I have described mediation before I started: weird, hippy, liberal, tree-hugger, yoga pants, eastern practice, etc.  But, after seeing Russell Simmons thoughts on mediation, and knowing Phil Jackson is a student of the practice I had to give it a try.  They seem to be pretty successful (insane understatement)!

Russell Simmons via Twitter (@UncleRUSH)

Russell Simmons via Twitter (@UncleRUSH)

ACTION ITEM: I hope you at least give mediation a try.  My life is measurably better because I adopted this ancient practice and I believe yours can be too.